The economy will likely continue growing slowly in nine Midwestern and Plains states in the months ahead, according to a new survey of business leaders released Thursday.
The monthly survey's overall index remained at a weak level even though it improved to 53.2 in December from November's 51.2. Any score above 50 suggests growth.
"The resolution of the federal budget impasse and improvements in the nation's housing sector boosted supply managers' business outlook for the month," Creighton University economist Ernie Goss said.
The confidence index for the region jumped to 66.5 in December from November's 57.2, suggesting managers are quite optimistic about the next six months.
The survey covers Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota.
The survey results are compiled into a collection of indexes ranging from zero to 100. Survey organizers say any score above 50 suggests growth in that factor, while a score below that suggests decline.
Goss, who oversees the survey, said businesses tied to agriculture continue to report softer economic conditions, but transportation firms partially offset that weakness with strong job growth.
The overall employment index fell to 48.7 in December from November's 51.2.
Business managers remain concerned that inflation could be a problem in 2014. In December, the inflation index increased to 63.6 from 61.6 in November.
The inventory index climbed to 51.3 in December from November's 48.1. Goss said that's another optimistic signal.
The other components of the December index were:
— Export index declined to 55.6 in December from November's 56.4.
— Import index slipped to 47.2 from November's 53.5.
— New orders improved slightly to 57.4, up from 57.2 in November.
— Production or sales increase to 56.8 from November's 53.3.
— And delivery lead time grew to 52 in December, up from 50.7.
The overall December index dropped to 51.9 from November's 54.3. Components of the survey were new orders at 56.5, production or sales at 56.4, delivery lead time at 49.5, inventories at 49.8 and employment at 47.6. "Durable- and nondurable-goods manufacturers ended 2013 on a high note with healthy sales and job growth," Goss said. Construction firms continue to add jobs, but the industry still must add 35,000 jobs to return to prerecession levels, he said.